Could BRT replace the Second Ave. Subway?By
As this week of bad news for the Second Ave. Subway draws to a close, we return again to a question of transit on the Upper East Side? As they do every time another SAS delay is announced, Streetsblog advocated for a BRT solution to the Second Ave. problem. But is that a realistic replacement for a full Second Ave. subway?
In rehashing their BRT argument for Second Ave. — one they explored in February — Ben Fried and Streetsblog made a rather bold claim. “On the east side of Manhattan,” Fried writes, “the right BRT configuration would carry almost as many commuters as the Second Avenue Subway, for a fraction of the cost.”
The Overhead Wire jumped all over this one. Pantograph Trolleypole, the pseudonymous author of TOW, did not believe this Streetsblog claim to be an accurate statement. While calling the BRT option “inferior transit,” the Wire levels this charge:
For a fraction of the cost you get a fraction of the ridership and a fraction of the service. How many buses and how many Union wages would it take to get that level of service? Let’s all imagine how much it would cost operationally to carry ~7 million daily subway riders on buses every day in addition to the 2.3 million people that already ride buses in New York. Let’s see what kind of a city New York would be without the Subway. There is a specific crowding issue that needs to be addressed on the east side and if you amortize that $5 billion over the lifetime of the tunnels it is well worth the investment over centuries of use.
Forgetting the seven million figure, let’s look at some real numbers. According to the Second Ave. Subway environmental impact statement, the MTA estimates that 200,000 riders a day will use just Phase I of the new line. When — or if — the whole line is completed, the MTA believes that 500,000 a day will rely on some part of the Second Ave. Subway. Some of those will be new riders while others will be eschewing the overcrowded Lexington Ave. line for an emptier, more convenient train.
Let’s assume that, for a bus-rapid transit lane on Second Ave., the MTA uses the current high-capacity ride in its fleet. The articulated buses can fit 145 passengers. To meet the demand of just 200,000 passengers, the MTA would have to run around 58 buses per hour for 24 hours. Simply put, that’s impossible. To cover even half of the projected 200,000 for Phase I, the MTA would have to run a bus every two minutes throughout the day. We can’t even consider meeting the 500,000 projected number for a full line.
In the end, bus-rapid transit along Second Ave. probably should be implemented but not as a replacement for a subway. It should be implemented because it will cut down on the space available to cars and eliminate drivers while encouraging mass transit. It will provide an area of the city not too near a subway with a better option than the 4/5/6. But as the numbers show, BRT cannot replace a subway line. It can’t meet the demand, and it can’t do what the MTA wants the Second Ave. Subway to do.
As the city grows and the current subway system reaches capacity, we need to add transit options that allow for this expansion. While far more expensive, a subway can service more people than BRT. That’s what we need along Second Ave.